How Iran serves as ‘a key geographic hub for Al-Qaeda’

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed that arch-enemy Iran has become a new “home base” for Al-Qaeda worse than Afghanistan. (AFP/File Photo)
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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed that arch-enemy Iran has become a new “home base” for Al-Qaeda worse than Afghanistan. (AFP/File Photo)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed that arch-enemy Iran has become a new “home base” for Al-Qaeda worse than Afghanistan. (AFP/File Photo)
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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed that arch-enemy Iran has become a new “home base” for Al-Qaeda worse than Afghanistan. (AFP/File Photo)
Members of the Iraqi pro-Iranian Hashed al-Shaabi group and protesters set ablaze a sentry box in front of the US embassy building in the capital Baghdad. (AFP/File Photo)
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Members of the Iraqi pro-Iranian Hashed al-Shaabi group and protesters set ablaze a sentry box in front of the US embassy building in the capital Baghdad. (AFP/File Photo)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed that arch-enemy Iran has become a new “home base” for Al-Qaeda worse than Afghanistan. (AFP/File Photo)
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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed that arch-enemy Iran has become a new “home base” for Al-Qaeda worse than Afghanistan. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 09 February 2021

How Iran serves as ‘a key geographic hub for Al-Qaeda’

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed that arch-enemy Iran has become a new “home base” for Al-Qaeda worse than Afghanistan. (AFP/File Photo)
  • The men running Iran and Al-Qaeda view themselves as allies when it comes to achieving their political objectives
  • The US government has offered a $7 million reward for ‘Al-Qaeda’s Iran-based leader’ Abd Al-Rahman Al-Maghrebi

WASHINGTON, DC: Mike Pompeo, the outgoing US secretary of state, made a splash last week when he unveiled new intelligence pointing to an enduring operational relationship between the regime in Iran and Al-Qaeda’s international terror network.

Although senior Al-Qaeda operatives are long known for using Iran as a transit point and shelter, what many policymakers and the general public have failed to grasp is just how vital the safe haven offered by the Islamic Republic has become to Al-Qaeda’s survival.

Iran is now officially the last government in the world that knowingly harbors and facilitates Al-Qaeda activity. Revelations concerning the full extent of this nexus come as Iran accelerates its drive towards nuclear-weapons capability with threats and warnings that are a belated wake-up call for world leaders.




US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed that arch-enemy Iran has become a new “home base” for Al-Qaeda worse than Afghanistan. (AFP/File Photo)

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)’s extraterritorial Quds Force has worked behind the scenes as a driver of both Tehran’s illicit nuclear program and its facilitation of the terrorist activities of senior Al-Qaeda leaders who have sought refuge in Iran.

Concurrently, the Quds Force has used the threat of Al-Qaeda as a justification for the expansion of its Shiite militia proxies in Syria and Iraq. In reality of course, key figures in Al-Qaeda’s central command have been traveling to Syria and establishing a foothold there with the connivance of their Quds Force patrons.

Anyone in search of proof need look no further than the sanctuary provided by Iran to Al-Qaeda’s chief military strategist Saif Al-Adel, who masterminded the 2003 bombings of residential compounds in Riyadh, killing 39 and injuring 160.

Al-Adel, whose real name is believed to be Mohammed Salah Al-Din Zaidan, has emerged as a key emissary for Al-Qaeda’s operations in Syria and has even traveled there from Iran.

Other senior Al-Qaeda operatives who were based in Iran before traveling to Syria include Muhsin Al-Fadhli, a former leader the group’s Iran-based facilitation network, and Sanafi Al-Nasr, a senior operative who was given free rein to continue terrorist activities under the watchful eye of the Iranian government.

Against this backdrop, the Trump administration’s focus in its waning days on Iran’s emergence as a major Al-Qaeda hub is significant on several counts.

 

Above all, it intimates that the US and its allies can no longer turn a blind eye to the Iranian regime’s complicity in Al-Qaeda activity, something that was politically convenient for them to do during their efforts to establish a nuclear deal at any cost.

The offer of a $7 million reward by Pompeo for information leading to the capture or killing of Abd Al-Rahman Al-Maghrebi, the son-in-law and senior advisor to Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and commander of Al-Qaeda’s operations from Tehran, is a strong indicator of this new awareness.

Given that the incoming Biden administration will be composed of Obama-era officials who were involved in negotiating the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran (also known as JCPOA), a push to link sanctions on Iran to its continued support for Al-Qaeda (in addition to its stepped-up nuclear program) could offer US policymakers greater leverage.

“The relationship between Iran and Al-Qaeda has long been understated if not ignored in Washington,” Richard Goldberg, former Director for Countering Iranian Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Trump White House, told Arab News.

“Putting a bounty on the head of a top Al-Qaeda operative living in Iran forces the incoming Biden administration to confront Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism across the spectrum. There’s no more hiding this dangerous relationship.”

THENUMBER

$7 million

* US reward for information on ‘Iran-based Al-Qaeda leader Muhammad Abbatay, also known as Abd Al-Rahman Al-Maghrebi.’

Iran lives in hope that its strategy of denial and deceit will succeed. During negotiations with the Obama administration, Iranian officials such as Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had attempted to spin the nuclear deal and the lifting of sanctions as necessary Western concessions for Iran to be able to focus on the real threat of fighting extremist groups, namely Daesh and Al-Qaeda.

For similar reasons, Iran desperately tried to cover up the suspected Israeli killing of one of Al-Qaeda’s most prolific terror masterminds, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, in August last year, when he was gunned down in the middle of Tehran.

Abdullah’s elimination came as many Al-Qaeda operatives in Iran were being given a freer hand to operate and open nodes of communication and travel for the wider terrorist network.

For Iran, the ends justify the means, despite what to the casual observer may seem like a clash of worldviews between the Shiite theocracy and the Sunni radical Al-Qaeda.

“Many people think that because Al-Qaeda’s ideology reviles Shiites that it could never cooperate with the Islamic Republic, and vice versa. But the hard men running Al-Qaeda and Iran do not simply behave according to their ideologies,” Michael Doran, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, told Arab News.

“In terms of ideology, yes, Al-Qaeda and Iran are enemies. In terms of power and political interests, however, they are natural allies.”




Members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) march during the annual military parade marking the anniversary of the outbreak of the 1980-1988 war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. (AFP/File Photo)

The need for heightened awareness in Western capitals of Iran’s enabling of Al-Qaeda is underscored by Iran’s parallel efforts to advance its nuclear program in plain sight of the world. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) told the UN Security Council last week that Tehran has continued to "reduce its commitments" to restrictions imposed by the JCPOA.

The confidential IAEA report, obtained by CBS News, says Iran has started to manufacture equipment used to produce uranium metal at a facility in Isfahan. Uranium metal can be used to make the core of a nuclear warhead, although it is unclear yet when or if Iran might start producing the material.

Pointing out that the JCPOA “prohibits Iran from producing uranium metals for 15 years, and has additional curbs on Tehran conducting research and development on uranium metal in certain facilities,” the CBS News report quoted the IAEA report as saying that “Iran is making its departure from those commitments clear.”

According to Western intelligence agencies, recent Israeli airstrikes that targeted the IRGC’s Quds Force infrastructure in eastern Syria were intended to disrupt an overland delivery route that Iran has been using to transport smuggled components for its nuclear program.

This is an area on the Syrian-Iraqi border where Iran has developed a massive base of operations alongside thousands of trained Shiite foreign fighters under the guise of fighting extremism.

Unsurprisingly, the need for cooperation in the fight against terrorism was a core talking point pushed by Zarif before 2015 in public speeches and media appearances while attempting to convince American and European policymakers to finalize the JCPOA and subsequently lift sanctions on Iran, particularly those targeting the IRGC.




A missile launcher parked on a warship named after slain Naval commander Abdollah Roudaki, sailing through the waters in the Gulf during its inauguration. (AFP/Iran’s Revolutionary Guard via Sepah News/File Photo)

Now it seems clearer than ever that Iran was emboldened to boost Al-Qaeda’s terrorist capabilities as it benefited financially from the windfall that resulted from the sealing of the nuclear deal.

“Al-Qaeda and the Islamic Republic have a long history of working together. The Al-Qaeda leadership even lives openly in Tehran,” Alireza Nader, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told Arab News.

“Of course, Zarif and his allies are very sensitive about these ties as they might complicate their plan to ease US pressure on the regime.”

Soleimani’s shadow
Qassem Soleimani left a trail of death and destruction in his wake as head of Iran’s Quds Force … until his assassination on Jan. 3, 2020. Yet still, his legacy of murderous interference continues to haunt the region

Enter


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So, now the question is whether a new administration in Washington will take these lessons to heart and accept there is little strategic logic in pressuring Iran to end its nuclear aspirations without an equally aggressive push to unequivocally eliminate the Al-Qaeda leadership’s presence in the country.

As things currently stand, experts say, Iran will almost certainly use any sanctions relief under a nuclear deal redux to expand the footprint of its militias in the Middle East and to perpetuate the symbiotic relationship it has nurtured with Al-Qaeda.

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Twitter: @OS26


Lebanese army detains man after deadly funeral attack

Lebanese army detains man after deadly funeral attack
Updated 50 min 45 sec ago

Lebanese army detains man after deadly funeral attack

Lebanese army detains man after deadly funeral attack
  • Shooting in Khaldeh, where tensions between Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims have long simmered, prompted leaders to warn against an escalation
  • Attack targeted the funeral of Hezbollah member Ali Shibli who was shot dead on Saturday during a wedding

BEIRUT: The Lebanese army said on Monday it had detained a man wanted over an attack on Shiite Muslim mourners at a funeral where three people were killed, after the powerful Shiite group Hezbollah demanded the perpetrators be detained.
The shooting in Khaldeh, a town south of Beirut where tensions between Shiite and Sunni Muslims have long simmered, has prompted leaders to warn against an escalation as Lebanon grapples with political and financial crises.
The attack targeted the funeral of Hezbollah member Ali Shibli who was shot dead on Saturday during a wedding.
Sunni Arab tribes claimed responsibility for that shooting, saying they had taken revenge for the killing of one of their members last year in Khaldeh.
Army intelligence stormed the homes of a number of wanted people and detained a man who was involved in the funeral attack, the army said.
Hezbollah, an armed group backed by Iran, has said it is seeking to maintain calm but said the attackers must be handed over. The group has called it a planned ambush.
“You don’t want strife, then come and surrender those killers to the state,” Hassan Fadlallah, a Hezbollah MP, said in an interview with Al-Jadeed TV late on Sunday.
People were “boiling” and the group could not control them all, he said.
Shibli’s coffin was draped in a Hezbollah flag at his funeral in the town of Kunin in southern Lebanon.
Clerics prayed over the casket and Hezbollah fighters wearing camouflage and red berets were in attendance, footage broadcast by Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV showed.
“What happened in Khaldeh confirms the blatant absence of the logic of the state and that the language of uncontrolled and illegitimate arms is the one prevailing,” Fouad Makhzoumi, an independent Sunni MP, wrote on Twitter.
“We are afraid of the country being dragged to strife.”
Lebanon’s financial and economic meltdown marks the biggest crisis since the 1975-90 civil war.
“Strife awakens on the eve of Aug. 4,” declared the front page headline of an-Nahar newspaper, referring to the first anniversary of the Beirut port explosion that devastated swathes of the capital and killed more than 200 people.


Tunisia reiterates commitment to combating illegal migration

 After being identified, migrants are sent to the temporary accommodation centers on the mainland or on the quarantine ferry ships moored in the waters in front of Lampedusa’s port. (AFP)
After being identified, migrants are sent to the temporary accommodation centers on the mainland or on the quarantine ferry ships moored in the waters in front of Lampedusa’s port. (AFP)
Updated 55 min 2 sec ago

Tunisia reiterates commitment to combating illegal migration

 After being identified, migrants are sent to the temporary accommodation centers on the mainland or on the quarantine ferry ships moored in the waters in front of Lampedusa’s port. (AFP)
  • Arrival of migrants to Lampedusa taxes accommodation facility on small Italian island
  • Italian politician says information from Tunisian security forces regarding operations to counter illegal migration ‘seems to contradict increasing number of landings’

ROME: Tunisian President Kais Saied reiterated his country’s commitment to combating illegal migration and has thanked Italy for its donation of some 1.5 million coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine doses, in addition to five containers of equipment to help the country fight the pandemic.

On Sunday night, Saied symbolically received the vaccine donation in a ceremony he attended with the Ambassador of Italy to Tunisia Lorenzo Fanara, in which he hailed bilateral relations and renewed Tunisia’s commitment against illegal migration in the Mediterranean.

A communiqué from the Tunisian presidency said that the president expressed his eagerness to “protect rights and liberties and bolster the pillars of security and stability” and affirmed his country’s stance against illegal migration, human trafficking and smuggling. He also warned against politically exploiting this issue during such a “delicate” time as the country is currently experiencing.

Sources in the Embassy of Italy in Tunisia told Arab News that Saied “remains keen to continue bilateral cooperation in accordance with all the agreements made on both sides regarding the issue of migration in the past years.”

The arrival of migrants to the island of Lampedusa continues, meanwhile, due to good sea conditions.

On Monday, the Tunisian Coast Guard informed that 11 operations to counter illegal migration were carried out over the weekend, with 188 migrants aboard various boats stopped in different regions of the country.

The Tunisian Ministry of Interior said in a communiqué issued after the ceremony with President Saied and the Italian ambassador that 56 of the people stopped came from African countries but did not specify their nationalities.

Eleven of them were already wanted for repeatedly trying to reach Italian and European shores illegally.

“They can say what they want, but most of them are Tunisians from Tunisia,” Rev. Michele Giordano from Caritas in Sicily told Arab News.

“The activity of the Tunisian security forces to counter migration from that country probably comes as a response to the interview Ennahda party leader and Speaker of Parliament Rached Ghannouchi gave on Saturday to Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera. In that interview, Ghannouchi warned that European countries would face an unprecedented wave of migration if they did not help his movement,” Andrea Delmastro Delle Vedove, member of the foreign affairs committee in the Italian Chamber of Deputies, told Arab News.

“I do not see any other reason why they should let everyone know that in recent days the Tunisian National Guard prevented hundreds from crossing the Mediterranean illegally. This kind of information seems to contradict the increasing number of landings from Tunisia in Lampedusa and on the southern shores of Sardinia,” he added.

Only on Sunday, around 200 people arrived in Lampedusa. After being identified, migrants are sent to the temporary accommodation centers on the mainland or on the quarantine ferry ships moored in the waters in front of the tiny island’s port. Over 1,200 migrants are still staying in the facility, however, which is designed to accommodate no more than 250.


Lebanon’s Mikati says hoped for faster pace towards government

Lebanon’s Mikati says hoped for faster pace towards government
Updated 49 min 5 sec ago

Lebanon’s Mikati says hoped for faster pace towards government

Lebanon’s Mikati says hoped for faster pace towards government
  • Government formation ‘is a bit slot’, said Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati on Monday

BEIRUT: Lebanon's newly designated prime minister Najib Mikati said Monday that a cabinet lineup would not be announced by mid-week to coincide with the anniversary of the deadly Beirut port blast.

“Frankly, with regard to the government, I was hoping the pace would be faster,” he said after meeting President Michel Aoun, whom he said he would now see again on Thursday.

The government of Hassan Diab, who is still caretaker prime minister, resigned en masse days after the August 4 explosion that killed more than 200 people last year.

Mikati, who has already been prime minister twice in the past and is also the country's richest man, was designated on July 26 to form a government after Saad Hariri threw in the towel.

He said he had hoped to clinch a deal before the anniversary of the explosion, but media reports said Lebanon's political parties are still bickering over portfolios in much the same way that has blocked a new government over the past year.

The institutional vacuum is holding up a potential financial rescue plan for Lebanon, which defaulted on its debt last year and has since sunk into what the World Bank has described as one of the world's worst crises since the mid-19th century.

The designation last month of 65-year-old Mikati, seen by many as a symbol of Lebanon's corrupt oligarchy, was met with scepticism both at home and abroad.


Libya gets 2 million Sinopharm doses with more expected

Libya gets 2 million Sinopharm doses with more expected
Updated 02 August 2021

Libya gets 2 million Sinopharm doses with more expected

Libya gets 2 million Sinopharm doses with more expected
  • "We call on all our fellow citizens to be vaccinated," said Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah
  • Since the pandemic began, Libya has recorded 256,328 cases and 3,579 deaths from Covid-19

TRIPOLI: Libya called Monday on people to come forward to be vaccinated after it received two million doses of the Chinese vaccine Sinopharm, with more on the way.
“We call on all our fellow citizens to be vaccinated,” Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah told reporters at Mitiga airport near Tripoli after the shipment arrived.
Adding to its security and political problems, the North African country of around seven million people has been hard hit by the pandemic.
Dbeibah, who heads a transitional government ahead of elections set for December, added that another 1.5 million doses of vaccine were expected “in the coming weeks.”
Since the pandemic began, Libya has recorded 256,328 cases and 3,579 deaths from Covid-19.
Recently, it has seen an increase in daily cases of several thousand, partly because of increased testing.
Last Tuesday, a two-week overnight curfew aimed at halting the rise in new infections came into force in central and west Libya.
It does not apply in eastern and southern Libya, which are de facto controlled by military strongman Khalifa Haftar, despite the political and military situation improving.


Iran records highest number of daily COVID cases in pandemic

Iran records highest number of daily COVID cases in pandemic
Updated 02 August 2021

Iran records highest number of daily COVID cases in pandemic

Iran records highest number of daily COVID cases in pandemic
  • State TV said health workers registered 37,189 new COVID-19 cases since Sunday
  • There were 411 deaths, bringing the country's total death toll to 91,407, the Middle East’s highest

TEHRAN: Iran on Monday reported more than 37,000 new coronavirus infections, the country’s single-day record so far in the pandemic, state media reported.
State TV said health workers registered 37,189 new COVID-19 cases since Sunday — surpassing the previous daily record of 34,951 infections reported on Tuesday. Also, there were 411 deaths, bringing the country’s total death toll in the pandemic to 91,407 — the highest in the Middle East.
The new surge has been fueled by the contagious delta variant, and Iranian authorities say less than 40 percent of the population follows measures such as wearing face masks and social distancing. Iranian health officials have regularly warned that hospitals in the capital, Tehran, and other major cities are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.
On Sunday, Health Minister Saeed Namaki in a letter to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei asked a two-week shutdown of the country, something the minister said the military would help enforce. However, Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters, has not yet responded to the request.
Authorities have avoided imposing heavy-handed rules on a population badly equipped to bear them. Iran, which has suffered the worst virus outbreak in the region, is reeling from a series of crises: tough US sanctions, global isolation, a heat wave, the worst blackouts in recent memory and ongoing protests over water shortages in the southwest.
Less than 4 percent of Iranians have been fully vaccinated. Many front-line medical workers have been vaccinated with Iran’s locally produced shots or the Chinese state-backed Sinopharm vaccine that report say may be less effective than other inoculations.
Iran’s government announced that its homemade vaccine provides 85 percent protection from the coronavirus, without disclosing data or details. Iran also imports Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, as well as the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot through the United Nations-backed COVAX program.